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Park and Reclamation Guides

Significant Points

This job series includes all classes of positions the duties of which are to provide or supervise nonprofessional interpretive and guide services to visitors to parks, dams, and other sites of public interest. The work involves giving formal talks, interpreting natural and historic features, explaining engineering structures and related water resource developments, answering questions, guiding tours, and providing miscellaneous services to visitors. Incidental duties are performed in connection with responsibility for visitor safety and protection of historic and scientific objects and natural or engineering features.

Nature of the Work

Job Elements:

Element 1 - Giving talks

Guides regularly give talks normally following a prescribed outline and requiring application of broad subject-matter knowledge of the features of interest peculiar to the work site. A guide may tell the entire story of the park or dam in a talk given at one point, e.g., in an assembly room at the visitor center where visitors are oriented before taking a self-guiding trail trip; or a guide may be stationed at one of several points of visitor interest and give talks covering only a portion of the interpretive story, e.g., in a large battlefield park, one park guide may be stationed at the historic house where the terms of surrender were drawn up, and would give talks covering the history of the house and the details of the surrender negotiations. In the same park, another park guide might be stationed at an observation point on the battlefield and would describe the battle, pointing out the exact sites where important skirmishes occurred, and explaining the significance of the battle with reference to the war.

In caves and other parks where the size of the parties of visitors taking guided trips (as distinguished from self-guided trail trips) requires more than one guide, a group of park guides accompanies the party throughout the trip; at various stopping points, one of the park guides points out the features of interest which can be observed from that point, and gives a talk covering a portion of the cave story such as the history of exploration or the geological processes which result in the formation of the stalactites and stalagmites. Such talks include detailed and specific interpretation and explanation of the outstanding features from the standpoint of scientific or historical interest, the background of events leading up to the natural feature or phenomenon; the facts, events, personalities and circumstances, not limited to those closely related to the immediate features of interest but those identified with them in their origin, growth, or development, or influencing their present status, form, condition, or importance. In addition, the talks provide general information about other sites of public interest; facilities for public use; pertinent rules and regulations; and other matters designed to stimulate a sense of appreciation and thus encourage protection and preservation of the scenic, scientific or historic features. In some circumstances, the talks are given in conjunction with live demonstrations of nearly forgotten arts and crafts. Frequently, the talks are given in conjunction with electric maps, photographic slides, and other audio-visual devices.

In all cases, the talks require application of skill in preparing oral presentations, a good speaking voice, a fluent command of English, and other traits common to good public speaking. The basic information to be incorporated in the talks, and the general outline to be adopted in presenting them have been provided by a professional staff man, but the guide is expected to "personalize" them. He must couch the talks in terms appropriate to the obvious interests of the group, e.g., the talks might be quite differently worded when given to a group of school children than to a group on a photographic tour. The guide must exercise judgment in selecting from among the many specific items those which best satisfy the desires of the group and hold their interest.

Element 2 -- Answering questions

This element differs from giving talks in that while a good many questions are posed repeatedly, there is sufficient variance that the answers cannot be prepared in advance. The guide must have a great many facts in his mind, be able to sort them out promptly and give ready answers in depth to specific questions. He must recognize questions which should be referred to the supervisor or a professional employee, avoid arguments, and tactfully avoid letting one visitor absorb his entire attention during busy periods.

In evaluating this element, consideration should be given to the number and variety of questions which commonly recur, those which the guide answers and the types he refers to others. Answering questions about the events which occurred at a single feature such as a Surrender Room, usually requires memorizing fewer facts than answering questions about events in the lives of the personages who lived in a historic home and their role in the historic occasions; pointing out the authentic objects as distinguished from the reproductions; or naming the artisan who produced furniture, china, silver, etc.

In all cave situations, park guides must acquire and apply a thorough knowledge of the park and its geological formations. In some caves, historic events also occurred, or wildlife is an important feature of interpretation, e.g., the bats at Carlsbad Caverns, the blind fish at Mammoth Cave. Giving talks and answering questions about those features requires acquisition and understanding of a greater diversity of facts than is the case in those caves where such unusual features are not present.

In all cases, the guide must be able to think quickly, answer questions courteously, and exercise judgment in how much detail to supply, and the language in which to frame the answer so that it is geared to the tenor of the question.

Element 3 -- Guiding parties

In guiding parties, guides both give talks and answer questions. This element involves the techniques of dealing with groups of people moving from place to place along a fixed route. Guides must keep the group together; maintain a pace which the group can keep up with and still conform to prescribed schedules; know the routes and any shortcuts which can be taken if necessary or desirable. This element is especially important in caves where all visitors must be guided.

This element also applies to sites where visitors are not guided on conducted trips, but follow self-guided trails or wander at will. In such situations, a guide is stationed at a point of visitor concentration, such as the stairway of a historic house. He maintains order and safeguards the objects from handling. When need arises, he takes measures to avert crowding, and to slow or speed up the pace of traffic flow. These measures might be to divert clusters of visitors into other rooms or into the garden, to give a short unscheduled talk to hold back a group, or in extreme cases, to bar admission of visitors temporarily in the interest of safety. Considerations in evaluating this function include the size of the party; the conditions which make it difficult to keep the party together; the difficulty of the terrain or other factors, such as cramped conditions, and consequent precautions which must be taken to insure safety of the visitors; and the fragility of the features, and precautions which must be taken to prevent damage to them.

Element 4 -- Providing services to visitors

This element includes the many factors involved in dealing with people. The guide is the first and often the only Federal Government employee at the site with whom the visitor comes in contact. He serves as the "host" to the visitors. His uniform identifies him as a Park or Reclamation authority. His presence serves as a deterrent to infraction of regulations, and he is expected to maintain order, enforce regulations, and until relieved, take charge in case of emergency. He is looked to for leadership, assistance and advice. This covers a wide range of services, including assistance with lost articles, car trouble, and first aid; and providing of information about weather conditions, highway routes, park and concessioner facilities, and prices.

Dealing with complaints requires a high order of tact and diplomacy. The guide is expected to satisfy a legitimate complaint immediately, if at all possible. Usually a courteous explanation of why a certain regulation is necessary will serve the purpose. Some types of requests, questions or complaints may require action at higher levels. The guide arranges for the visitor to see an official who may be able to satisfy his wishes, or makes a report of it for consideration by others. Throughout his daily duties, an important part of the park guide's mission is to stimulate by his attitude toward his work, an understanding of, sense of, appreciation for, and pride of ownership in the parks on the part of the visiting public.

Miscellaneous duties:

Park guides perform protection duties in the course of providing interpretive service to visitors. They are alert to and take measures to prevent injury to persons and damage to formations, exhibits, and property.

When not performing public contact interpretive duties, park guides perform other duties as assigned in the interpretive and protective programs of the park. These assignments vary from park to park. Among the more common duties are:

-- Collect admission fees, catalog library accessions and museum objects; inspect restrooms and other public areas; photograph park features for use in interpretive programs; make visitor count reports; take readings of weather observation instruments; make reports; maintain museum collections through preservation treatment; maintain signs; compose correspondence; direct traffic; and receive training and participate as necessary in fire control work.

At dams and other sites, guides perform similar incidental duties such as selling tickets, keeping visitor records, and operating vehicles, elevators, and animated displays.

Park Guide, GS-0090-04

Scenario A.

At a cave where small parties take cave trips usually not exceeding 1 2 hours, the park guide greets the group; gives a brief talk explaining the history of exploration of the cave, the general geology of the cave, principal features to be observed, regulations to be followed to preserve the features and protect the visitors, and any measures which need to be taken ahead of time to enhance visitor comfort and enjoyment, such as opportunities and arrangements for photographing features, suggestions as to suitable clothing, etc.

Serves as lead guide on the tour, scheduling speed of the party consistent with the interest of the group and to avoid encounters with other parties. Answers questions pertaining to the cave itself such as (1) the number of miles of trails; (2) the depth of the cave below the earth's surface and how far it is above sea-level; (3) the age of the cave; (4) the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite; (5) length of time required for formation; (6) identification of common plants and animals found on the surface, and any found in the cave. Also answers questions of a general nature such as location of nearby camping areas, distance to other parks, identification of other caves, etc. Throughout the tour, is responsible for maintaining order in the party, and coping with any emergency which may arise until relieved.

May give talks about the cave, illustrated with slides, at campfire programs and similar gatherings.

Scenario B.

At the visitor center of a battlefield site provided with an electric map, the Park Guide GS-4 relates the story of the battle in coordination with automatic lighting sequence. Answers questions regarding the battle, the restoration and early history of historic houses on the ground of the park, the associated national military cemetery, other points of local interest, and questions pertaining to accommodations, highways, etc. Occasionally guides parties over the battlefields. When not engaged in public contact work, answers correspondence about the park, performs library research to verify obscure facts or to answer inquiries, prepares labels for exhibit cases, and performs similar duties.

Reclamation Guide, GS-0090-04

At a small or medium size dam area or with primary responsibility for a substantial segment of a very large dam project area, performs the customary guide duties described at the GS-5 and GS-6 levels, but under the following conditions: Principal features are easily observed and primarily self-explanatory as to identification and purpose; tours are generally of short or moderate duration; questions by the public are mostly repetitious; facts presented in talks are limited in variety of subject to very little change from time to time; and the situation is such that accidents and other emergencies rarely occur.

Park Guide, GS-0090-05

Scenario A.

At a very large cave with numerous features which require interpretation, where a team of park guides conduct large parties on cave trips requiring several hours, the Park Guide GS-5 serves on a rotating assignment in varying roles: lead, trailer, cut-in. The various roles require different techniques in management of the party. The lead turns on lights and sets the pace, faster through the less interesting sections and slower through the scenic sections of the cave. The trailer or rear guide keeps the rear section of the party compact, turns off lights, and makes sure that no one strays from the main group. The cut-in works the line of visitors to keep the party together and as necessary leads a lagging portion of the party by shortcuts to join the lead portion.

Each park guide gives one or more of several scheduled talks at stopping points along the tour route, following a prescribed outline as to material to be covered, e.g., one talk will include the history of exploration, another the general geology of the cave, another the story of plant and animal life in the cave. While the party is enroute along the trail, the park guide in this situation answers visitor questions, and takes action as necessary to safeguard the features and prevent accidents.

Scenario B.

In an historical park, a Park Guide GS-5 is stationed on a rotating basis at any one or several points of visitor concentration, e.g., a historic house on a battlefield site. Conducts visitors through the building, telling the story of the events which took place there, how those events related to the battle, and how the battle related to the war. Another point is at an observation point where the entire battlefield can be viewed.

Usually the battlefield is provided with a self-guiding trail system. The park guide gives talks and answers questions about those phases of history of the site which were covered only briefly, if at all, in the interpretive markers and trail guide leaflets. The information given covers a wide range of facts, statistics, events, circumstances, personalities, etc., identified with or closely associated with the site. May conduct groups over the battlefields and give talks geared specifically to the field of interest of organized groups, e.g., points out the site where a certain regiment engaged in combat; in an historic house, names the artisans who designed furniture, china or silver pieces, and identifies objects which are period pieces as distinguished from authentic pieces used by historic personages.

Maintains order in the parties, prevents crowding on narrow stairs or injury to historic objects, and takes appropriate action in case of emergency until relieved.

Reclamation Guide, GS-0090-05

At a large dam, personally escorts visitors on tours of the project, and through prepared lectures and by answering inquiries explains the physical features of the project, the programs contemplated, progress made, benefits derived from the completed project such as downstream flood control, power production, etc. The guide is responsible for the conduct of the group in his tour, including the safety of visitors. He must deal capably with emergencies that may arise, maintain tour schedules and avoid interfering with operation, maintenance and construction activities.

As incidental duties, the guide keeps records of visitors, ticket sales and money, directs traffic and parking; and operates automobiles, elevators, public address systems, and visual aid animated displays.

Park Guide, GS-0090-06

Scenario A.

In a cave where a team of 3 or more park guides accompany large parties on cave trips requiring several hours, the park guide serves as "Chief of Party." He organizes parties prior to departure from the surface, insures that parties are dispatched on schedule, that each visitor is properly checked into the cave, and, throughout the tour, is responsible for maintaining order, keeping the party on schedule, taking action in case of emergency or violation of regulations, etc. He assigns roles to other park guides who accompany the party, to serve as lead, trailer cut-in, etc., specifies the particular talks each is to give at designated stopping points along the route, and supervises their performance while they are attached to his party. Audits interpretive talks given by other guides, personally gives those talks interpreting the more complex phenomena, and answers the more difficult questions referred by the other park guides. Alone, or with one or two park guides of lower grade, he conducts parties that require special attention such as distinguished visitors, handicapped persons in wheel chairs, and photographic enthusiasts, on partial tours of the cave.

Depending on the composition and interests of the group, applies infrequently used knowledges and techniques to meet their needs. Selects trails which will accommodate wheel-chairs. Takes scientists and other important persons over rarely-used shortcut trails to the features they most desire to see. Conducts photograph parties over routes which by-pass certain features covered on regular tours, to allow more time at especially photogenic spots; provides general information on techniques which have produced good pictures; enforces regulations (and explains the basis therefore) such as restrictions on use of flash-powder, disposal of used flashbulbs, and restrictions against resting cameras or tripods on formations; explains special arrangements for making commercial motion-pictures.

The park guide in these positions makes reports and suggestions which are relied on heavily by park management in considering management decisions such as scheduling of trail maintenance, laying out of new tour routes, limits on size of parties, increases or decreases in number of guides with a party, etc.

Reclamation Guide, GS-0090-06

Scenario A.

Starting at the visitors' center of a very large multiple-purpose project which may have two or more major features, such as a very large dam, a large hydroelectric power plant, a large pumping plant, a fish hatchery or fish diversion works, a large substation activating a major transmission system, or a combination of these features, the guide, utilizing any of various public address devices, assembles the group; explains and outlines the proposed group activity, giving advance direction and/or announces precautionary measures required, and otherwise prepares visitors to enable them to acquire maximum benefit from their visit. This requires that he assess immediately and unobtrusively certain physical characteristics of the visitors in the group and to arrange for safety factors, tour time and maximum reception for the lectures and the project's visible interests.

In the course of several tours, or as required by special groups with varied interests, the guide gives lectures on the origin and inception of the project; reviews some of the considerations related to feasibility determinations in the concept stages; and explains the topographic and physical layout of the project. Describes the phases of the various multipurpose features and relates each to the other; outlines and describes the project operations in terms of effect on the economy of the area, agricultural and industrial relationships, operation and purposes of hydroelectric power generation and distribution system, operation and purposes of a system of hydraulic gates and valves and the release of water for irrigation, types and kinds of crops, etc.

The guide may use working models, animated pictures, or other mechanical devices at the beginning or during the tour to explain any of the various project features. May conduct automobile caravans by use of pilot car from the visitor's center to any part of project; follows prescribed routes presenting lectures at designated points of interest.

Scenario B.

On a large dam project under construction in a dynamic and ever-changing work environment, the guide keeps informed of continually changing information and data, ranging from numerous statistical type data to relatively complex descriptions of various construction processes, techniques and equipment in use during various stages of construction as well as of the structures and appurtenant works. Obtains such information from supervisor or from discussion with engineers or other technical personnel and from reports and bulletins. Since potential accident hazards are relatively numerous, the guide exercises a high degree of safety consciousness and alertness to avoid accidents and prevent interference with construction activity. Assembles visitors, delivers lectures, conducts tours, and describes physical features and the interrelationship of various types of equipment operations.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

The educational and training requirements for recreation workers vary widely with on the type of job. Full-time career positions usually require a college degree. Many jobs, however, require demonstrated knowledge of the activity or can be learned with only a short period of on-the-job training.

Education and training. The educational needs for people entering into this occupational field vary widely depending on the job and level of responsibility. For activity specialists, it is more important to have experience and demonstrated competence in a particular activity, such as art or kayaking, than to have a degree. Camp counselors often are older teenagers or young adults who have experienced camping as a child and enjoy the camping experience. A degree is less important than the counselor’s maturity level, ability to work well with children and teens, and ability to make sure that they stay safe.

Those working in administrative positions for large organizations or public recreation systems may need a bachelor’s degree or higher. Full-time career professional positions usually require a college degree with a major in parks and recreation or leisure studies, but a bachelor's degree in any liberal arts field may be sufficient for some jobs in the private sector. In industrial recreation, or “employee services” as it is more commonly called, companies that offer recreational activities for their employees prefer to hire those with a bachelor's degree in recreation or leisure studies and a background in business administration.

Employers seeking candidates for some administrative positions favor those with at least a master's degree in parks and recreation, business administration, or public administration. Most require at least an associate’s degree in recreation studies or a related field.

An associate’s or bachelor's degree in a recreation-related discipline, along with experience, is preferred for most recreation supervisor jobs and is required for most higher level administrative jobs. Graduates of associate’s degree programs in parks and recreation, social work, and other human services disciplines also can enter some career recreation positions. High school graduates occasionally enter career positions, but doing so is not common.

Programs leading to an associate’s or bachelor's degree in parks and recreation, leisure studies, or related fields are offered at several hundred colleges and universities. Many also offer master's or doctoral degrees in the field. In 2009, 89 bachelor's degree programs in parks and recreation were accredited by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). Accredited programs provide broad exposure to the history, theory, and practice of park and recreation management. Courses offered include community organization; supervision and administration; recreational needs of special populations, such as the elderly or disabled; and supervised fieldwork. Students may specialize in areas such as therapeutic recreation, park management, outdoor recreation, industrial or commercial recreation, and camp management.

Specialized training or experience in a particular field, such as art, music, drama, or athletics, is an asset for many jobs. Some jobs also require certification. For example, a lifesaving certificate is a prerequisite for teaching or coaching water-related activities.

The majority of seasonal and part-time workers learn through on-the-job training.

Licensure and certification. The NRPA certifies individuals for professional and technical jobs. Certified park and recreation professionals must pass an exam. In order to qualify to take the exam, individuals need to (1) have earned a bachelor's degree in a major such as recreation, park resources, or leisure services from a program accredited by the NRPA or have at least 1 year of experience if the program is not accredited; (2) have earned any other bachelor's degree and have at least 3 years of relevant full-time work experience; or (3) have at least 5 years of full-time experience in the field. Continuing education is necessary to remain certified.

Many cities and localities require lifeguards to be certified. Training and certification details vary from State to State and county to county. Information on lifeguards is available from local parks and recreation departments.

Other qualifications. People planning careers in recreation should be outgoing, good at motivating people, and sensitive to the needs of others. Excellent health and physical fitness often are required, due to the physical nature of some jobs. Time management and the ability to manage others also are important.

Advancement. Recreation workers start their careers working with people. As they gain experience, they may get promoted to positions with greater responsibilities. Recreation workers with experience and managerial skills may advance to supervisory or managerial positions. Eventually, they may become the director of a recreation department.


Recreation workers held about 327,500 jobs in 2008, and many additional workers held summer jobs in the occupation. About 31 percent of recreation workers worked for local governments, primarily in park and recreation departments. About 16 percent of recreation workers were employed by nursing and residential care facilities, and another 10 percent were employed in civic and social organizations, such as the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts or the YMCA and YWCA.

Job Outlook

Faster than average growth is expected. Jobs opportunities for part-time, seasonal, and temporary recreation workers will be good, but competition will remain keen for career positions as recreation workers.

Employment change. Overall employment of recreation workers is projected to increase by 15 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Although people will spend more time and money on recreation, budget restrictions in State and local government will limit the number of jobs added. Many of the new jobs will be in social assistance organizations and in nursing and residential care facilities. Civic and social organizations and fitness and sports centers will also contribute to growth.

Growth will be driven by the growing numbers of young and older Americans. The large numbers of births in recent years likely will increase the demand for recreation services for children, and retiring baby boomers are expected to have more leisure time, higher disposable incomes, and more concern for health and fitness than previous generations had. The latter factors should lead to an increasing demand for recreation services for baby boomers.

Job prospects. Applicants for part-time, seasonal, and temporary recreation jobs should have good opportunities, but competition will remain keen for career positions because the recreation field attracts many applicants and because the number of career positions is limited compared with the number of lower level seasonal jobs. Opportunities for staff positions should be best for people with formal training and experience in part-time or seasonal recreation jobs. Volunteer experience, part-time work during school, and a summer job are viewed favorably. Those with graduate degrees should have the best opportunities for supervisory or administrative positions. Job openings will stem from growth and the need to replace the large numbers of workers who leave the occupation each year.


In May 2008, median annual wages of recreation workers who worked full time were $21,960. The middle 50 percent earned between $17,680 and $28,810. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $15,630, while the highest paid 10 percent earned $37,730 or more. However, earnings of recreation directors and others in supervisory or managerial positions can be substantially higher. Most public and private recreation agencies provide full-time recreation workers with typical benefits; part-time workers receive few, if any, benefits. In May 2008, median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of recreation workers were as follows:

Nursing care facilities $23,100
Individual and family services 22,260
Local government 21,890
Civic and social organizations 19,800
Other amusement and recreation industries 19,670

The large numbers of temporary, seasonal jobs in the recreation field typically are filled by high school or college students, generally do not have formal education requirements, and are open to anyone with the desired personal qualities. Employers compete for a share of the vacationing student labor force, and although salaries in recreation often are lower than those in other fields, the nature of the work and the opportunity to work outdoors are attractive to many.

Part-time, seasonal, and volunteer jobs in recreation include summer camp counselors, craft specialists, and afterschool and weekend recreation program leaders. In addition, many teachers and college students accept jobs as recreation workers when school is not in session. The vast majority of volunteers serve as activity leaders at local day camp programs or in youth organizations, camps, nursing homes, hospitals, senior centers, and other settings.

Sources of Additional Information

For information on jobs in recreation, contact employers such as local government departments of parks and recreation, nursing homes and other residential facilities, the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, and other local social or religious organizations.

For information on careers, certification, and academic programs in parks and recreation, contact:

  • National Recreation and Park Association, 22377 Belmont Ridge Rd., Ashburn, VA 20148-4501. Internet:

For information about a career as a camp counselor, contact:

  • American Camp Association, 5000 State Road 67 North, Martinsville, IN 46151-7902. Internet:

Information on obtaining Park or Reclamation Guide positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
  • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

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